It’s game day.
Outside Raymond James Stadium before the Bucs-Eagles wild-card game are thousands of excited fans. As songs blast over loudspeakers, some people gather to watch performers breakdance. Others line up to take pictures with pirates on stilts.
But walk just about a hundred yards away, and you’ll find yourself inside a whole other world — the world of live event television production.
It’s a part of the game-day experience fans don’t typically have access to, so it’s not something they often think about, whether watching the game at the stadium or the broadcast from their couch. But take one step inside the NFL on Fox production truck, and odds are — after seeing how many monitors and buttons there are — you’ll become at least a little overwhelmed.
However, after years of experience — several decades for some — the setup doesn’t phase the production crew.
“You have to really use your instincts,” said NFL on Fox director Rich Russo. “You have to be quick, you have to be fast, but you have to be calm, and that’s really really important. I call it organized chaos.”
“If we’re doing our job, it looks seamless at home,” said NFL on Fox producer Richie Zyontz, “but behind the scenes, it’s a flurry of activity and decision-making.”
In addition to the faces of the broadcast you always see, like play-by-play announcer Joe Buck and analyst Troy Aikman, there’s a large cast of people working behind the scenes to deliver the broadcast to fans across the country. In addition to Zyontz and Russo, there are dozens working on site on other parts of the broadcast, like graphics and audio. There are those manning the cameras throughout the stadium (the Bucs-Eagles game had 23 manned cameras) and other employees working from the Fox studios in Los Angeles.
It really does take a village to put it all together. But this village has experience, especially experience working together, which is crucial in a fast-paced, high-intensity environment.
“I think there’s a lot to be said for the continuity our crew has had for all these years,” said Aikman. “We feel it on game day, and we feel it’s a better product because of the time we’ve spent together.”
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While Fox obviously doesn’t broadcast every Bucs game, the production team knows that when the network does have a Tampa Bay game, quarterback Tom Brady is going to be a focus, no matter how he’s playing. And in the production meeting with the broadcast crew prior to the game, Brady does what he can to help them prepare.
“I would say of all the players we talk to, (Brady) and Aaron Rodgers are the two most open with their information,” said Buck. “(Brady) coming to the NFC is one of the great gifts we’ve been given at Fox and I think, individually, we’ve been given, to get to know him a little bit better.”
After being in Tampa for wild-card weekend, the NFL on Fox crew is traveling to Green Bay for the divisional round to broadcast the Packers-49ers game. They’ll be attempting to top the ratings they pulled in for the Bucs-Eagles game, which had over 30 million viewers and was the top telecast this season for Fox.
Zyontz defines a successful broadcast differently, though.
“It’s seamless, it’s calm, and we’ve covered all the stories in the game,” he said. “If I pick up the paper on a Monday and I’m reading about things that happened in the game that we didn’t touch on in some way, then I feel like I didn’t do my job.”
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